Maynard Miner

One thing I have noticed is that some people always want to learn more things instead of polishing what they already have.

Maynard Miner

A pioneer of Shotokan Karate in the United States, Maynard Miner helped lay the foundations of Shotokan Karate in the US. His many students include the likes of George Cofield, John Mullin, and many others. Like many of his generation, he learned his Karate in the postwar Japan of the 1950s.

Maynard Miner was born on 13 January 1934, in Brooklyn, New York. He was the second of four children (three boys, one girl) to parents Maynerd and Retha Miner. He was educated at Kingsborough College.

Growing up Miner wanted to be as strong as his brother, who was a year older than him. He tried his hand at Boxing, Judo, and Aikido. However, he did not find them to his liking.

In 1954 Miner enlisted in the army. At the time many of his friends are joining the army.

Miner’s first 8 weeks of boot camp was at Camp Dix, New Jersey. His second eight weeks were spent training at Fort Gordon, Georgia. Boot camp opened his eyes to how tough the army was.

Miner shipped out to Korea in 1954, after basic training. However, while in Korea he was selected to go on deployment to Japan.

In January 1955 Miner arrived in Japan for a three-year tour of duty. World War II had ended in 1945. However, the United States were still an occupying force in Japan.

Miner had first heard about Karate while travelling to Korea. In Japan, he started looking for a dojo where he could train during his free time.

Miner managed to find a dojo located in Tokyo. It was the original JKA Hombu, located in an old movie studio. He joined a week after finding the dojo. He trained mostly in the evenings and weekends, as his duties permitted.

Training at the JKA Hombu was tough. It was a strict, no-nonsense dojo, where etiquette was very important. Rank in the dojo was also very important. There was a clear distinction between instructors, senior students, and the remaining students.

During his time at the dojo, Miner trained with the likes of Masataka Mori, Takayuki Mikami, Tetsuhiko Asai, Hirokazu Kanazawa, and Yutaka Yaguchi. Other Americans training at the dojo, included Robert Fusaro.

Miner’s training consisted of plenty of kihon, kata, and kumite. There were times where he could barely walk after training sessions. Although there were times when he wanted to quit, he persisted with his training, progressing one belt at a time.

In 1957 the 1st JKA All Japan Karate Championships was held at the Tokyo Gymnasium. The tournament did a lot to popularise the JKA’s brand of Shotokan Karate. Hirokazu Kanazawa became the first Kumite Champion, with Hiroshi Shoji becoming the first Kata Champion.

Miner and several other non-Japanese students, including Robert Fusaro, was selected to give a semi-free sparring demonstration.

By 1957 Miner had been training at the JKA Hombu for around two years. In 1957 he attempted his grading examination for 1st Dan. The grading was physically demanding. He had to perform his kumite against several of the higher grades. He received his 1st Dan from JKA Chief Instructor, Masatoshi Nakayama.

In July 1958, Miner’s 3-year tour of duty in Japan came to an end. He wished he could have stayed in Japan a little longer, to continue his Karate training. He felt he still had much more to learn.

Back in the United States, Miner was stationed at Fort Dix, until his discharge from the army.

Back in Brooklyn Miner would visit St John’s Recreation Centre, where he would practice his kata. He had searched for other people practising Shotokan Karate. However, he failed to find anyone practising the brand of Karate he had become used to in Japan.

Around 1959, Miner met George Cofield, who was teaching a form of Karate to a group of students at the St John’s Recreation Centre. Cofield had seen Miner practising his kata. Impressed by his technique, Cofield asked Miner to help with the teaching of his group.

By 1961 Miner and Cofield had built a small loyal following of students. No Japanese instructors were teaching Shotokan in the New York area at the time. However, Miner did manage to cross-train with Hiroshi Orito, who was a Wado-Ryu instructor.

In May 1961 Teruyuki Okazaki was the second JKA instructor sent to teach in the United States. Hidetaka Nishiyama had arrived in the United States in 1961.

Masatoshi Nakayama had initially sent Okazaki to the United States for a period of six months. Okazaki settled in Philadelphia.

Miner resumed his training with Okazaki, who took over the grading of him and his group. Once a month Miner would travel from New York to Philadelphia, to train at Okazaki’s dojo. Minor would also take some of his students to train at the dojo.

By 1968 Miner and his group had been training with Okazaki for several years. However, a rift started to grow between Cofield and Okazaki.

Cofield had begun learning Karate in the mid-1950s while serving in Japan with the US Army. He was one of the first black men to teach Karate in the United States. He infused Black Nationalism into his Karate teaching, as a way of providing a positive influence to his students.

Still new to the culture in America, Okazaki didn’t fully understand the struggle black people were going through, during the 1960s and 1970s. Being a traditional Japanese instructor, he didn’t fully understand Cofield’s brash nature, thinking of him as a troublemaker. For a long time, he wanted Miner to get rid of Cofield.

For his part, Cofield found the JKA to be pompous, and not willing to adapt Karate to the environment that was being taught. Cofield eventually parted ways with Miner and Okazaki. Over time he would become a well-respected master, and his students would include the likes of Thomas LaPuppet.

Through the late 1960s and 1970s, Miner continued to teach traditional Shotokan Karate to his students. He had become a well-respected instructor.

Hidetaka Nishiyama was the head of the All-American Karate Federation (AAKF) and represented the JKA’s interest in the United States. They had been growing tension between him and the other Japanese instructors in the organisation. They felt that their voices and opinions were not being heard.

In 1977, after a heated meeting, five of the Japanese instructors – Teruyuki Okazaki, Takayuki Mikami, Yutaka Yaguchi, Shojiro Koyama, and Shigeru Takashina – split from Nishiyama’s AAKF, to form the International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF). The ISKF was affiliated with the JKA.

Miner followed Okazaki to the ISKF. He was well respected within the ISKF. In 1998 he was appointed to the ISKF Technical Committee, alongside James Field, Cathy Cline, Frank Woon-A-Tai, Greer Golden, Robin Rielly.

In June 2001, Miner’s Flatbush Shotokan Dojo was opened in Brooklyn, New York. It was a purpose-built dojo. Okazaki was present on the opening day of the dojo.

June 2007 saw the ISKF terminate its 30-year relationship with the JKA. Karate had grown to include masters from different countries, who felt their voices were not always heard by the JKA. Out of loyalty to the international members of the ISKF, Okazaki felt he had to leave the JKA. Mikami, Koyama, and Takashina decided to remain with the JKA.

On 9 June 2008 Miner was promoted to 8th Dan, alongside Robin Rielly and James Field.

Miner’s Flatbush Shotokan Dojo hosted the 56th Anniversary SKF East Coast Shotokan Karate Association Championships on 13 April 2019. The championships were held in honour of Miner.

On 27 August 2021, it was announced that Maynard Miner had died.

Unfortunately, the name Maynard Miner is not as well-known as it should be. Learning his Karate in the postwar Japan of the 1950s, he learned from some of the best postwar JKA instructors.

A quiet man, Miner stayed out of the limelight, preferring to concentrate on teaching his students. Many who have trained with him, describe him as an excellent instructor. Now in his mid-80s, he has been practising Karate for over 60 years. He has retired from active teaching and serves as an Emeritus member of the ISKF Technical Committee.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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